Published 4 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: GLady / Pixabay
CEO Dr. Sally Uren has a realistic understanding of collaborations and shares how combining forces is the way forward.
The biggest challenge to collaboration today is the difference between the
willingness to sit in a room to talk, and actually changing things, says Dr.
Sally Uren, CEO of international
sustainability nonprofit Forum for the Future. Her work with global
corporations brings decision-makers into the room to focus on, first and
foremost, 'what is the problem we’re trying to solve?’
To pinpoint that, Uren and her team navigate agendas, contradicting positions
and bottom lines by building a space where leaders can share assumptions and
views without judgement. She understands that there is never holistic harmony
and the process is not perfect, but her focus on the common objective steers
collaborations to success.
Recognizing that the problem you are solving for is bigger than any one
organization is the first step, Uren says: “More organizations recognize that
they need to tackle systemic barriers. Supply chains, consumerism —
these are too big for one corporation to do alone. Realizing there is a great
benefit from differing parts of the system coming together is key. And including
civil society, NGOs and government in that collaboration is required, as well.”
Establishing boundaries and clear rules of engagement set the tone for those
stakeholders coming together; Forum for the Future has spent years crafting
ecosystems in which to do that. From there, crafting the shared vision is
possible, though individual inputs may vary widely. To that point, Uren believes
that those varying perspectives — pitched in the secure and focused environment
created by the collaboration — are quite integral to binding the participants in
the shared vision and purpose.
Understanding that the current business model isn’t working is a given.
Provoking proactive engagement is part of Forum for the Future’s work, and
balancing that against consumer behaviors and existing corporate thinking takes
optimism and persuasion. But Uren says she finds the most success in motivating
collaborations when the conversations are honest, with clear boundaries, and
highlighting the absolute necessity of each individual organization involved.
Staying away from the weeds of specific business models, Uren and her team are
careful to protect each brand, especially when competitors enter into
collaborations. Their method is to enable a safe space where values creation is
prominent and the big picture is discussed, with the ‘how’ to be worked out by
each participant in private. This is especially important to Uren as she is
highly sensitive to the restrictions of anti-competition law, a driving factor
in the way she navigates motivating high-impact collaborators. The largest
motivator, however, is recognizing individual roles. Uren’s team takes the time
to bring key brands and individuals to the table by understanding and calling
out the specific role, position, influence and power each participant holds.
“It’s about recognizing that each member has a specific set of skills and
particular leverage necessary to change the system,” she says.
Focusing on long-term goals with short-term pressures is key to making scenarios
relevant. It’s quite easy to have a vision of the future, but Forum’s
collaborations take that vision and play it out in various ways, not just the
most appealing to the stakeholders.
“This can become really uncomfortable, because there is no guarantee for
sustainability,” Uren says. “So, when we are creating the vision, painting the
we do so in many different ways. With these scenarios, you can pontificate and
we reduce the tensions within these collaborations by building in quick wins.
The wins create momentum, and the shared vision they are part of keeps the focus
on the larger goals.”
When the larger goals involve a shift from traditional production methods, often
eliminating or altering a participant’s existing process and position, Uren
points out it’s key to talk in terms of transition: “A managed transition can
build and diversify and sustain the future goals.”
The engagement of CEOs and change-making stakeholders is sometimes a
double-edged sword for Uren’s team and their process. Many participants have
multiple problems they’d like to tackle with the group. But actually solving for
multiple problems never works, so Forum focuses all the ideas into three or four
main issues to solve for. Defining interconnections along the supply chain,
three things that can create catalytic change and what success looks like steer
the conversations out of rabbit holes and onto a path where tactics and strategy
can become tangible.
Forum’s process keeps these collaborations away from nested problems that can
derail the purpose, by perpetually circling back to the reason for the
collaboration in the first place: the interconnections along the supply chain
requiring the system to work together to affect change.
“There are loads of shifts to use as reference points: IBM was a personal
PC, now selling tech; Kodak completely transformed — and that’s when you see
the moment of enlightened self-interest click,” Uren points out. “The
participants see that, ‘In the interest of my organization and the system around
me, I need to participate or I’ll be pushed out.’ It’s about the role you play
together, and how brands can use power positions within the system to deliver
more sustainable products that work commercially.”
“Consumers are the red herring in the conversation,” Uren says. “It’s all too
easy to say they are unwilling [to change and purchase sustainable alternative
products] — but that is not the right question, and it is the wrong argument
that ‘people won’t
She notes that no one really asked Apple to make smartphones or other
technology, but Steve Jobs had a vision of tech making life easier; he had
the imagination and the consumer benefited from that. To her, these
collaborations are the same thing; she sees that a lack of business imagination
can be counteracted with these collaborations and they are the path forward for
more consumer benefit. She believes and sees in practice that collaboration
creates the way in which industries shift and this enables ecosystems that
thrive on sustainable, purpose driven methods. It is this intersection of vision
and action that inspires Uren, and creates the purpose fueled space for system
To learn more about the successes of Forum for the Future’s global
collaborations — including Protein Challenge
2030 and the new Edible Fats and Oils Collaboration
— please check out their site.
Published May 21, 2019 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Alison Ferolo has over a decade of content creation and brand storytelling experience; most recently focused on the cultural shift toward a more sustainable and responsible future.